Saturday, September 30, 2006

Yesterday the electricity went out. Or rather, the workers shorted our line somehow. Only half of our house has electric lights now. Last night, we cooked and ate dinner by candlelight, and had candles in the bathroom and hallway.

We live in an old house - it was built in the early 19 hundreds on the foundations of a house built in the late middle ages, which was built on the foundations of an ancient church, which was built on the site of a pagan temple and so on and so forth back to about 100 AD, when this valley was settled by Romans. Romans being what they were, they built bridges, temples, and made the roads as straight as possible, which is how we know the Romans were here. Before the Romans were the Gauls, a tribe that did not believe in writing and who thought trees and running water were sacred. But they worked with 'sky metal' (iron) and left traces of their presence.

Before the Gauls were nomadic tribes, and even before them were the ancient ancestors who hunted giant deer and woolly rhinos. This is a place for flint, and there are many stone axes and arrowheads in the local museum. So everywhere I look, there is a trace of the past. We drive on roads that were simple paths centuries ago, and the other day we took a walk down an overgrown trail that used to be the main road between our town and its neighbor, Civry. The road led to the water mill deep in the hollow, but water mills became obsolete with the advent of electricity and the mill fell to ruin, the road gradually disappeared, and no one takes that path anymore unless they are just going for a walk.

On the other side of the village square lives an old woman. She's bed-ridden and mostly senile. She thinks that it's still world war two, and that there are Germans under her bed. I used her for one of my characters in a book I'm writing. She's otherwise very spry and the nurse who comes twice a day and looks after her, says she's in great health. The war really affected the people in Europe. My mother in law was a child, but she still recalls the rationing and then making a frantic dash with her family to go from Paris to shelter in Bordeaux. My father in law's horses were all taken by the army. It was a hard time and too many suffered and died. It still casts a pall over the country. The French wear their memories of war like chains, and sometimes I feel ridiculously light and untethered compared to them. There are war memorials in every village, and the ceremonies are well attended by the whole village - children and grandparents, making their twice yearly trip to the village square to hear the mayor's speech, then the national anthem, and then the trip to the cemetery.

There is much honor and tradition here. The village I live in is old and tied to tradition, but it happily embraces the new. The mayor came rushing up to me on the street when he heard that the internet was moving to high speed. He wanted to be the first to tell me. So high speed internet and ancient Roman ruins coexist peacefully in this tiny village, where the most excitement comes when the cows get out and block the road, or when the school bus gets stuck in the mud at the hairpin turn on the tiny road leading across the plain. I like it that way. I like knowing most everyone in town, and I like getting goose eggs from one neighbor, and advice about how to plant garlic from another. It's quiet here, but it's good to look out the window and see the forest on one side, and the plowed fields on the other. Maybe it would be nice to have a little more going on, but for that, I can go to Paris.

I used to live in Paris, Lyon, and Bordeaux - too - so I'll tell you what I loved about those cities soon!

6 comments:

Wynn Bexton said...

This was so interesting. Thanks for sharing your life in France with us. Yes...I was growing up during the War years, but we in N.A. can't imagine what it was 'really' like. I have several women in my Memoirs group who write about their lives as children growing up in Europe during the war (even some German women who have their perspective).

I love being in Europe among the ruins and the ancient history. I feel I come 'alive' when I am there, especially in Greece. So I can understand how you feel in France.

Write more. It is enormously interesting!

Bernita said...

A beautiful essay.
Do you feel like a time-travel tourist sometimes when these ancient echoes haunt the air?

Gabriele C. said...

It's the same here. Well, there's no Roman remains in Göttingen itself but close by, and our town was a settlement documented since the 6th century. As regular readers of my blog, there's a lot of historical sites around. I know the feeling of walking in history, and I could never thrive in the US because I would feel bereft of my roots. But I can imagine living in other European countries rich in history, so it's not a 'German' thing.

Doug Hoffman said...

I like the new look, Sam, and I'm enjoying your posts on France. Merde!

Bonita said...

What a lovely juxtaposition of old and new. Your town sounds like such a wonderful place to live.

Anonymous said...

You have such a lyrical way of describing things. I love it! You make me want to visit your part of the world :)